SIT AND LISTEN TO "THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE"


BONNIE GOLDBERG

Imagine you're sitting in an elegant and comfortable living room, listening to a piano concert of concertos by Grieg, Beethoven, Debussy, Liszt and Rachmaninoff. The woman at the piano is a gifted musician and a captivating storyteller who fervently wants to pay tribute to her mother Lisa Jura by telling you her remarkable story of survival during the Holocaust. Come meet the musically mesmerizing Mona Golabek who weaves a seamless tapestry of history, from her mother's youthful days in Vienna, where she is forced to flee from the Nazis, losing her family in the process.

Hershey Felder has adapted Mona Golabek's tale from her book written with Lee Cohen about the Kindertransport, a train that spirited thousands of mostly Jewish children, fleeing for their lives, to safer ports in Europe during World War II. In "The Pianist of Willesden Lane," the Hartford Stage is providing a unique opportunity until Sunday, April 26 for both lovers of inspiring theater and connoisseurs of beautiful music.

Although not trained as an actress, Mona Golabek dips stunningly into this story she knows intimately, portraying her mother Lisa from her childhood in Vienna, a city of dreams, her rescue from the Nazis on the Kindertransport, her rocky survival in and around London in a variety of homes and hostels, most notably at 243 Willesden Lane, and how her piano playing helped her survive, even the terrors of dropping bombs.

The simple black and gold set designed by Trevor Hay and Hershey Felder is an artistic window for a grand Steinway piano to hold center court, while empty picture frames on the wall are filled with the images that portray Golabek's moving words. She becomes all the figures in her mother's life, from her tearful farewell to her parents in 1938, her interactions with Mr. Hardesty who has so much influence on her fate in London, the stern but loving concern of Mrs. Cohen who takes her into her already crowded home and the young French soldier who hears her play the piano and is so eternally moved by her music.

Through her travels and travails, the skills taught to her by her parents, her father the tailor's sewing prowess and her mother's piano lessons, serve Lisa well. Hershey Felder directs this emotionally entertaining epoch with spellbinding finesse.

For tickets ($25-85), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org. Performances are Tuesday - Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and occasional 7:30 p.m.

Part stirring piano concert, part moving true tale of a teenager, "The Pianist of Willesden Lane" is packed with all the love and respect and honor one daughter can gift to her mother.

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